Belfast Telegraph

Banks face probe in new round of EU stress tests

Banks across Europe will be probed under a third round of EU-wide stress tests, due to kick off as early as next month.

The exercise will assess how the banks' capital reserves fare under hypothetical sovereign debt, housing market and liquidity shocks, with results due out in July.

Banks will be tested first against a control scenario and then under adverse conditions.

EU internal market chief Michel Barnier said the tests would cover 85 lenders in 27 countries and that the adverse scenarios would be more pessimistic than the 2010 round.

Regulators will extend scrutiny to lenders' banking books - where most sovereign debt is held - rather than concentrating on the trading book, where banks account for short-term and more liquid assets.

Seven banks, from Germany, Greece and Spain, failed to meet capital requirements under the 2010 stress scenario, which assumed a dip in economic activity and a spike in bond yields.

AIB and Bank of Ireland passed with flying colours, but two months later, the Irish government revealed that AIB would need an extra €3bn (£2,5bn), a cash injection that nationalised the ailing bank.

Analysts said that the previous assumptions weren't tough enough and didn't factor in a possible sovereign default.

EU economics supremo Olli Rehn blamed "weaknesses" in the way some national regulators carried out the 2010 tests.

EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels have been thrashing out the basis for the 2011 tests, but diplomats said there were still major divisions over whether to make public the results on banks' liquidity.

The stress tests that were carried out in 2010 were criticised for failing to spot some of the weaknesses of the banking sector.

Of 91 banks tested, all but seven passed, including Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland, which both later needed bailing out.

The exercise will bring added pressure to bear on ministers to conclude talks on boosting the eurozone's €440bn (£368bn) rescue fund, in case further bank recapitalisations are needed.

"We need a credible response after the tests," Mr Barnier warned. "If any weaknesses are detected we need fully functioning backstops," he said.